For many of us, this year has thrown a serious curveball in our plans for vacations. With lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and not much travel outside of the US, moving around has become a strategic game of, "Where is it safe to visit today?" Honestly, no matter where you travel, you can't really outrun what is going on, so you must continue to be vigilant about your safety and health no matter where you go. So the question now is, is all hope lost to get out, change your scenery, and explore somewhere new? I don't believe so.
In an article by Travel Agent Central, "A survey conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) found that only 44 percent of Americans are planning overnight vacation or leisure travel in 2020, with high interest in road trips, family events and long weekends over the summer months."
Now is the time to get creative with your trips. The beautiful thing about traveling is that you can turn any trip into an adventure. We often like to go big and place heavy emphasis on traveling abroad. We literally forget that there are hidden gems right in our own backyard.
One way to get creative is with road trips. Yes, road trips are a thing, and if you are itching to get out during lockdown there is no better way to travel right now than hitting the open road. Domestic travel doesn't have to always be by airplane; it can be by car or even a camper if you are feeling really in the spirit.
Road tripping has so much to offer that a plane ride cannot: up-close views of landscapes and scenery, unplanned pit stops in small towns for quirky adventures, and hours of conversations with road partners that include singing off-key to a dope curated playlist. The bonding time with friends or a significant other alone is enough to push road trips to the tops of your list this summer. The most important key to planning any trip is the route.
The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West
Distance: 168 miles/3 hours and 20 minutes
Route: The Overseas Highway (US1)
Considered one of the greatest American road adventures, the route between Miami and Key West boasts over 100 miles of road that stretches over 42 bridges and connects 34 islands. So essentially this is island-hopping road trip-style. The views are as tropical as they can get, with miles and miles of blue turquoise water as far as the eye can see.
A major tip about this route is that most of the attractions on a Miami to Key West road trip are easily found by knowing what mile marker they are located near. For example, at Mile Marker 118 you are officially in the Florida Keys. It's here that you are just over 100 miles from Key West with lots of quirky pit stops and experiences that lie ahead.
As you make your way to Key West, you will pass through hundreds of small islands that make up the Florida Keys. The islands you'll pass are all connected by Highway 1 which is also known as the "The Overseas Highway". This route can best be described as "A visit to the Florida Keys is a road trip in the grand American tradition: it's not just about where you are headed, it's also about what happens along the way."
Suggested Stops: Cruise on the African Queen (Mile Marker 100), Islamorada Sandbar Island Party (near Mile Marker 84), Seven Mile Bridge (Mile Marker 47-40), Duval Street at Night, Hemingway House, and Mile Marker Zero.
Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco to Los Angeles
Distance: 460 miles/9 hours
In all honesty, this is probably one of my favorite road trips and routes. In 2013, I took an extended vacation that included a road trip through California for my first visit to the Golden State. It was the best decision I could have made to see a lot of California and Nevada. Our route went from Reno, NV to San Francisco, CA, to Los Angeles, CA, and ended 10 days later in Las Vegas, NV.
For a portion of that trip we took Highway 101 after a brief stay in Solvang, CA. Highway 101 is basically the same thing as Pacific Coast Highway except for part of it goes inland for a few miles between Salinas and San Luis Obispo. The scenery on this route is unmatched, around every corner there are enormous mountainscapes with the Pacific Ocean pushed right up against each edge.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway is the equivalent of driving along a thin divider that separates two vast and picturesque worlds. The coastal route is about 150 miles and will take about 3 hours, as it's a slower route. The winding roads and beautiful beaches give you plenty of places to stop along with California's stretches of coastline for off the beaten path adventures as well as many places to get a lobster roll or any other food of your choice.
One quick note, if you can keep your eyes on the ocean, it is not uncommon to see whales and dolphins pop up every now and again. Tip: the best way to travel this one is with the top down.
Suggested Stops: Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, Point Bonita Lighthouse, Monterey Aquarium, Morro Rock, Madonna Inn, Hearst Castle, Solvang, and Santa Monica Pier. This trip is long so take your time with this one.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Distance: 468 miles
Let's switch up the scenery just a bit and take a trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway. This route winds through the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, starting at its most southern point Shenandoah National Park and going all the way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered one of the country's greatest scenic drives.
"Spanning the southern and central Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers an exceptional glimpse of the regional flora and fauna. It is world-renowned for its biodiversity. The Parkway covers a wide range of habitats along the Appalachian Mountains, and some of these habitats are exceptionally rare. Visitors encounter unsurpassed diversity of climate, vegetation, wildlife, and geological features," says Blue Ridge Parkway website.
When planning your trip, it is suggested to plane it over the four districts of the parkway: the Ridge Region, the Plateau Region, the Highlands Region, and the Pisgah Region. This road trip can be taken at any time of the year but the most spectacular time is during autumn when all the leaves are changing for miles on end.
Suggested Stops: On this trip, the suggested stops are more about what is out in the natural setting of the mountain range. For instance, the many hiking trails, swing bridges, overlooks, and waterfalls. There are many small cities that you can stop in to grab some souvenirs and also many wineries, such as the Biltmore Estates, where you can pick up the local flavors. However, your focus will be on the vast landscape of the mountain ranges.
The Blues Highway: Memphis, TN to New Orleans, LA
Distance: 400 miles
Route: US 61/US 278/US49/US 61
Everyone knows the key component to a dope road trip is the music. Amazing track after track to get you down the road is the best way to pass time. But what if you made the road trip about the music? This route is the perfect route to make this happen. Memphis TN, to New Orleans, LA, also known as The Blues Highway, and is laced with culture, music, and great southern food. It is recommended to start in Memphis and make your way south to New Orleans but be warned in the summer the heat can be intense.
"Separated by about 400 miles of road, Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana, are both hubs for music, food, and Southern culture. The six-hour drive between them can be expanded to an epic, 10-hour road trip through the Mississippi Delta, featuring notable music clubs and venues, Civil War landmarks, and more along the way," according to Trip Savvy.
(Recommendation from the writer: Skip all Civil War landmarks as they do not represent an accurate depiction of our history or they no longer exist. #BLM). This route is packed full of places to see and visit so it is best to plan ahead so you can see everything, get some delicious food along the way, and maybe do a little gambling if you are feeling lucky.
Suggested Stops: Blues Hall of Fame, Beale Street, Ground Zero Blues Club, The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, and The Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture to name a few.
BONUS ROUTE: Road to Hana: Kahului to Hana, Hawaii
Distance: 64.4. Miles
Route: Hawaii Routes 36 and 360
Since we are in the pandemic, this one might be a stretch but this will be a bonus route for when things find some balance and we can feel safer about traveling. However, this list would not be a truly complete road trip list without the Road to Hana. This scenic drive is located on the northeast coastline of Maui and is officially named the Hana Highway on maps. It will also be listed as Hwy. 36 and Hwy. 360.
A lot of people consider the Hana Highway to continue beyond Hana to the Oheo Gulch, and even further to the Upcountry Maui via Hwy. 31. Hawaii.com says, "With its 600-plus turns, 50 (or so) one-lane bridges and breathtaking views that alternate between mountain streams and soaring sea cliffs, the Hana Highway is less a roadway than an event in itself."
It is recommended to get out early to avoid traffic on this route. Also, there is a lot to see on the drive so you want to keep your eyes on the road. If you want to take in the full experience, definitely consider getting a driver to get you from start to finish. It is impossible to see all the sights along the route in one trip, so you may want to plan out two to three days to travel and hit the highlights.
Suggested Stops: Ho'Okipa Beach Park, Twin Falls, Huelo Lookout, Maui Garden of Eden, Keanae Pennisula, Pua'a Ka'a Falls, Hanawi Falls, Nahiku Marketplace, Wai'anapanapa State Park, Hana Town, Hamoa Beach, Wailua Falls, 'Ohe'o Gulch aka "Seven Sacred Pools", and Kings Garden Maui.
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